Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week.
Fire Leaves Thousands Homeless at Rohingya Refugee Camp
A devastating fire tore through the Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, on Tuesday and killed at least 15 people, injured hundreds, and left thousands homeless. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that at least 400 people are still missing and over 10,000 shelters have been destroyed or damaged. The fire is the latest horror for the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority from Rakhine State, Myanmar. Since 2017, over a million Rohingya have fled brutal military violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and sought shelter in Bangladesh, where refugees live in densely packed camps and squalid conditions. “This is the second time I lost everything in my life,” said refugee Ro Anamul Hasan, whose shelter was destroyed in the fire.
According to the New York Times, witnesses say that the fire started in one of the camp’s shelters but quickly spread after hundreds of nearby cooking gas cylinders exploded. A government official reports that over 250 acres were burned in the massive fire. The Bangladeshi authorities, UNHCR, and other international relief organizations are rushing to provide support to those who lost their shelters and belongings in the blaze.
Bhutan Prepares Nationwide Rollout of COVID-19 Vaccine
The Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan announced that it will commence its nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program starting March 27, an auspicious date selected by senior monks of the Central Monastic Body. According to Buddhistdoor Global, Bhutan’s prime minister Lotay Tshering told the nation on March 17 that a consignment of 400,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine (called Covishield in India) would arrive from India on March 22, allowing for a nationwide rollout to the kingdom’s 536,000 eligible citizens. Earlier in January, Bhutan became the first recipient of India’s ongoing vaccine diplomacy efforts, receiving 150,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Prior to the arrival of the vaccine shipment, the Central Monastic Body conducted a three-day Medicine Buddha Ceremony. “We pray these gestures during the pandemic turn into boundless blessings for the people of India,” said prime minister Tshering in a statement on Twitter.
Buddhists Respond to Anti-Asian Hate Crimes
In response to the March 16 shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, and the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rev. Marvin Harada, the Bishop of the Buddhist Churches of America, published a statement on Facebook titled “A Reflection on the Rise of Asian Hate Crimes.” He wrote, “It feels like . . . we are going backwards in time” and urged Buddhists as well as non-Buddhists to see that our true essences transcend our individual identity markers and to try to realize the oneness of all beings. Other sanghas, organizations, and teachers, including Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico; teacher and author Lama Rod Owens; the Institute of Buddhist Studies; L.A. Little Tokyo’s Higashi Honganji; and Tibetan media organization High Peaks Pure Earth have taken to social media and issued statements mourning the victims of the Atlanta shooting and condemning anti-Asian hate.
Clergy of All Religions Urge Their Congregations to Get Vaccinated
Clergy of all religions across America have been bolstering faith in vaccines to their congregants, the New York Times reports. Some are even making religious gathering places COVID-19 vaccination sites to offer a familiar and reassuring place to get the vaccine. These efforts are designed in part to increase vaccine trust among marginalized communities who have been mistreated by the medical system. Rev. Gabriel Salguero, a preacher in Orlando, Florida, has been weaving science into his sermons to dispel myths about the shots, and he has been preaching about the importance of helping your neighbors by getting yourself vaccinated. To combat misinformation that the COVID-19 vaccines contain pork byproducts, Muslim imams have been holding Facebook Live chats with Muslim doctors to dispel false rumors and assure followers that the vaccines are halal. In an interview for Religion News Service, Buddhist monk Ven. Tenzin Priyadarshi spoke to Rabbi Julie Schonfeld about prioritizing the health of the community and getting the vaccine as a way to practice the Buddhist virtue of non-harming.